“Why are our fashion design graduates working in retail?” – Nora Swann

An open letter to the new NZ government from Nora Swann, Pacific Fusion Fashion Show director

In the lead-up to New Zealand’s general election on October 14, 2023, we asked leaders within our fashion community to write open letters to the next government.

The letters were to be submitted before voting day and published after, ensuring those we approached could speak their minds, without needing to openly pledge their political support to a particular party or PM.

The brief was simple: what do you, as a business owner and a leader in the fashion community, feel is the most pressing issue for the government to address over the next three years? Is it economic support for NZ retail and manufacturing? Is it practical solutions around fashion and climate change? Is it investing in fashion and the arts? Is it creating more space and opportunities for indigenous fashion to thrive?

The below communication was penned by Pacific Fusion Fashion Show director Nora Swann, and is published here verbatim.


Dear NZ Government,

I’m really interested in what’s to come as you take lead over the next 3 years.

I am a creative entrepreneur in the fashion and social service spaces, and I have been predominantly working with pacific audiences over the past ~12 years.

From capacity building workshops, fashion shows, personal styling and other innovative initiatives, my work has created moments of community empowerment, individual creative expression and youth development.

I have been amazed at the level of creativity, talent and passion amongst individuals in the fashion space that I have come across in my time. However, I have always wondered why the conversion rate of pacific peoples running successful businesses in fashion was so low.

In reflection of my own journey in fashion, I recall growing my business out of pure grit, self-motivation, determination and by having an intimate support system around me of family and friends.

As I navigated the uphill battle which I am still experiencing today, the following questions tend to pop up:

“Why do people not take fashion seriously? Why do most pacific people see fashion as a hobby? Why are people who are graduating from university with a degree in fashion design going on to work in fashion retail? Why is fashion not considered an artform when you’re applying for funding from creative organisations who fund the arts? Why is sewing not considered a trade? Why are there no scholarships for fashion design?”

I then came to realise that for pacific fashion to thrive, we need to be officially recognised and supported by government.

We know that fashion is a significant industry with considerable economic impact and although the pacific fashion community are a young community, the pacific fashion community contribute to the NZ fashion industry and with formal education, we can grow sustainable businesses which will help create more jobs and help stimulate economic growth.

The support from government can also influence societal perceptions of fashion and if fashion is officially recognised and respected, families may be more supportive of their children pursuing careers in this field.

In addition, government recognition can help preserve and promote pacific heritage through fashion which is important for the identity and diversity of New Zealand.

It is encouraging to witness firsthand an increase in government support for the pacific fashion industry in recent years as government support plays a pivotal role in fostering sustainable businesses. But we must continue the momentum and have further conversations that will result in growth not only for the pacific fashion community but for the fashion community in general.

It shouldn’t be hard to build a sustainable business in fashion, but the fact of the matter is that it is extremely hard.

The first step is to address the questions I’ve asked in my open letter so let’s have that conversation.

Thank you,

Nora Swann